Toronto FC extends unbeaten streak to 5 games under interim coach Javier Perez

Toronto FC extended its unbeaten run under interim coach Javier Perez to five games with a 1-1 tie with Nashville SC in MLS play Sunday.

Toronto (3-8-5) is now 2-0-3 under the Spaniard, who took over July 4 after Chris Armas was fired in the wake of a six-game losing streak. TFC has drawn all three of its games at BMO Field — all by a 1-1 score — since returning home last month.

Nashville (6-1-9) stretched its own undefeated streak to eight (4-0-4) with its league-leading ninth tie of the season. Its run started with a 3-2 win over visiting Toronto on June 23.

Nashville came into the game with twice as many points (26) as Toronto. But it was an even, entertaining contest at BMO Field albeit without that many clear chances.

Defenders accounted for both goals.

Omar Gonzalez scored for Toronto. Robert Castellanos, in his MLS debut, scored for Nashville.

Toronto was without Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, who was held out of the game as a precautionary measure after feeling “some discomfort” in his leg. A club spokeswoman said it was not thought to be serious.

It marked the first-ever visit to Canada for second-year Nashville, which won both of its previous meetings south of the border with Toronto including a 1-0 extra-time playoff victory last November that ended TFC’s season.

Nashville coach Gary Smith is no stranger to BMO Field, however. He coached the Colorado Rapids to the MLS Cup there in 2010, with a 2-1 extra-time victory over FC Dallas.

Toronto went ahead in the 20th minute on a Gonzalez header off a Yeferson Soteldo free kick after Michael Bradley was taken down by Brian Anunga. Soteldo took the free kick seconds after Bradley placed the ball on the ground, catching the Nashville defence off guard and finding the six-foot-five Gonzalez for his first goal since Sept. 29, 2019.

Soteldo has two goals and four assists in 10 games.

Castellanos evened the score in the 41st minute off a long Dave Romney throw-in. The ball dropped into a group of six players in the Toronto penalty box and deflected off Castellanos’ shoulder, beating Alex Bono low to the near post.

Toronto kept a mindful eye on Nashville’s strike force of Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar and C.J. Sapong, who scored or assisted on all but one Nashville goal in the month of July. Former Ivory Coast youth international Ake Loba, a designated player signed in early July from Mexico’s Monterrey, came on for Nashville in the 77th minute.

Toronto wanted a penalty in the 15th minute when Jozy Altidore went down after contact with Anunga. But referee Fotis Bazakos waved play on.

The visitors came on the final minutes of the half with Canadian fullback Alistair Johnston’s diving header forcing a good save from Bono after Castellanos’ goal. Johnston, part of Canada’s team at the Gold Cup, had a fine game down the right flank.

Soteldo keeps impressing

The five-foot-three Soteldo was in the thick of Toronto’s attacks, showing off his marvellous ball control and deep bag of tricks. The elusive Venezuelan is soccer’s equivalent to a greased pole — hard to get a handle on.

He drew a yellow card for Dax McCarty in the 67th minute after the Nashville captain was forced to drag him down from behind.

Another call for a Toronto penalty when Richie Laryea went down in stoppage time was ignored.

After displaying a stingy defence in its inaugural season, Nashville has upped its offence this year.

Coming into play Sunday, Nashville ranked second in the league in goals conceded (averaging 0.93 goals a game) and was tied for sixth in goals scored (1.60 per game). Goalkeeper Joe Willis had a league-leading seven shutouts.

Toronto ranked 27th on goals conceded (2.13) and 11th in goals scored (1.33).

Nashville had 24 goals in 15 matches this season, matching its total from the 23-game regular season last year.

Perez made four changes to the starting lineup that won 2-1 in Chicago last weekend with Eriq Zavaleta, Justin Morrow, Laryea and Altidore slotting in. Laryea and Zavaleta had been at the Gold Cup with Canada and El Salvador, respectively. Jonathan Osorio, who was also at the CONCACAF championship, entered the game in the 58th minute.

Altidore started for the first time since May 22. He had made three substitute appearances since returning to the first team after eight weeks on the outs with the club.

Toronto plays at Philadelphia on Wednesday and hosts New York City FC on Saturday. Nashville continues a three-game road trip with visits to New England and Inter Miami.

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